Here’s the secret to the best Passover desserts: Stick to recipes that never relied on regular wheat flour to begin with. Why make a chocolate cake with matzo flour when a flourless chocolate torte is going to be so much better anyway?
That’s why flourless tortes, candies and nut- or coconut-based cookies are the usual end to many a Seder. It’s a sound strategy, though it does get old unless you mix things up. So every year, I tweak a little here and there.
The greatest break from tradition that I have tried may be macaroons. When I was a kid, chocolate Passover macaroons were coconut-based lumps fished out of a can.
These macaroons, fashioned after the classic French almond confection, are so intensely chocolaty you won’t miss the other “o.”
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The batter is pretty easy to make as long as you have an electric mixer to do the beating. Just make sure to seek out kosher-for-Passover confectioners’ sugar, or make your own. (Regular confectioners’ sugar contains cornstarch, which many observant Jews avoid during the holiday.)
After baking, I sandwich the macaroons with caramel, then drizzle with bittersweet chocolate. When you bite into one, the chewy, fudgy exterior quickly meets the brittle crunchy caramel layer, making these seem like a cross between a cookie and a candy. But the rich little macaroons can stand alone, unfilled and undrizzled, or you could pair them with coconut sorbet for a deconstructed Mounds-bar effect.
Or you could do a torte that leaves out the chocolate in favor of plenty of citrus. Although you could use any nut here, I chose hazelnuts for their sweet earthiness. I also added a little quinoa flour, which, thanks to the bounty of gluten-free ingredients at my local supermarket, was easily available (as were the almond and hazelnut flours). And quinoa’s forthright, lightly smoky taste was a good match with the hazelnuts.
Last we have a different take on matzo toffee. This Passover candy is based on one made with saltines, with matzo standing in for the chametz crackers. (Chametz is the Hebrew word for leavened food that observant Jews can’t eat on Passover, including wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt.) I added ginger juice and candied ginger to zip things up. Or leave them out and sprinkle the top with cacao nibs and sea salt, as David Lebovitz suggests on his blog.
But whatever you do, you should also serve those neon-colored, kosher-for-Passover gummy fruit slices. Some things are just better left as they are.
CHOCOLATE CARAMEL MACAROONS
Makes 2½ dozen filled macaroons
1¾ cups kosher-for-Passover confectioners’ sugar
1 cup almond flour or ground almonds
5 tablespoons natural unsweetened cocoa powder
¼ teaspoon fine salt
3 large egg whites, at room temperature
1 cup, plus 3 tablespoons sugar
2 ounces bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1. Line two to three baking sheets with parchment or nonstick baking mats.
2. In a bowl, whisk together confectioners’ sugar, almond flour, cocoa powder and salt.
3. Place egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment. Beat on medium speed until egg whites are white in color and hold on to the bottom of the whisk, two to three minutes. Continue to beat, slowly adding 3 tablespoons sugar until peaks are stiff, about one minute.
4. Using a rubber spatula, gently fold almond mixture into egg whites in four batches, until there are no traces of egg whites.
5. Spoon batter into a pastry bag or a heavy-duty plastic bag, cutting a small hole in a corner of the plastic bag. Pipe 1-inch rounds of batter, an inch apart from one another, onto baking sheets. (Or use a ½ teaspoon measure to form the rounds.) Pick up sheets and bang them against work surface. Let sheets sit at room temperature for 30 minutes. (Don’t skip this step; it helps the macaroons rise.)
6. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake macaroons until puffed and firm, 10 to 12 minutes, rotating the sheets halfway through baking. Transfer sheets to rack to cool completely, then overturn cookies on the baking sheets so that flat bottoms are facing up.
7. To make the caramel, combine remaining 1 cup sugar with ¼ cup water in a clean, dry skillet over medium heat. Cook, swirling pan occasionally to help distribute sugar until it completely melts and turns a rich reddish brown, about 15 minutes.
8. Working quickly, spoon caramel over half the overturned cookies; immediately sandwich with remaining, unfilled cookies. If the caramel hardens before you’re done, gently melt it over low heat and continue filling cookies.
9. Bring a small saucepan of water to a simmer. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl and place over pot. Heat, stirring frequently, until melted. (Or melt chocolate in the microwave.) Using a fork, drizzle cookies with melted chocolate. Let caramel and chocolate set at room temperature or in the refrigerator. The caramel should harden to the texture of hard candy.
You can buy kosher-for-Passover confectioners’ sugar in supermarkets around the holiday. Or make it by whirling 2 cups sugar and 2½ tablespoons potato or tapioca starch in a food processor, blender or spice grinder until powdery. Store airtight. Regular confectioners’ sugar works just as well.
MATZO TOFFEE WITH CANDIED GINGER
Makes about 2 dozen pieces
4 to 6 sheets matzo, preferably salted
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1 cup packed light brown sugar
2 teaspoons ginger juice, optional
Large pinch fine sea salt
6 ounces chopped bittersweet chocolate (1 cup)
3 ounces chopped candied ginger (¾ cup)
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil, allowing it to go over the edges of the pan. Cover the bottom of the pan with parchment. Arrange matzo over parchment in one layer, breaking pieces to fit as necessary.
2. In a medium pot over medium-high heat, bring butter and sugar to a boil for three minutes, until thickened and smooth. Stir in ginger juice and salt. Quickly pour mixture over matzos. Transfer pan to oven and bake 15 minutes until bubbly.
3. Remove pan from oven. Sprinkle chocolate evenly over caramel. Let stand five minutes until chocolate is softened. Use an offset spatula to spread chocolate smoothly over surface of toffee. Immediately sprinkle with candied ginger. Place pan in refrigerator and chill toffee for one hour. Break into large pieces.
To make ginger juice, grate a 3-inch piece of peeled ginger into a fine-mesh strainer and press out the juice.
HAZELNUT CITRUS TORTE
Makes 8 servings
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, more for oiling pan
1 cup, plus 1 tablespoon hazelnut or almond flour
3 cup quinoa flour
1 cup sugar
4 large eggs, separated
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh orange juice
¼ teaspoon salt
1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Line the bottom of an 8- or 9-inch springform pan with parchment and brush pan with olive oil.
2. Combine hazelnut flour, quinoa flour and a third of the sugar (about 1
3 cup) in a bowl.
3. In another bowl, use an electric mixer to whip another third of the sugar with the egg yolks on medium speed until thick and pale yellow in color, about five minutes. Beat in ¼ cup olive oil, the lemon zest and the citrus juices. Fold in the dry ingredients.
4. In a clean bowl, use an electric mixer to beat egg whites and salt until frothy. Beat in remaining sugar on high speed until stiff peaks form, about two to five minutes. Fold a third of the egg-white mixture into batter. Gently fold in remaining egg-white mixture in two batches. Pour batter into pan.
5. Bake 30 to 35 minutes. Remove from oven and cool. Remove pan sides. Invert pan, remove parchment and turn cake right side up onto a plate.